Carnegie Mellon University

Image of the Mechanical Engineering symbol printed on ceramics

April 26, 2018

Research into Printing Ceramics Could Break Industry Mold

Jayan earns NSF CAREER Award to further 3-D printing through electromagnetic waves

By Lisa Kulick

Lisa Kulick
  • College of Engineering
  • 412-268-5444

B. Reeja Jayan, an assistant professor in Carnegie Mellon University’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, has been awarded a 2018 National Science Foundation (NSF) Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER) Award to study the potential of 3-D printed ceramics.

The award, including $500,000 in research funding, is given to a faculty member in the early stages of their career with a proven potential to be a leader in their field and to integrate their research into novel educational opportunities. The focus of Jayan's most recent work is researching how electromagnetic waves may be used to alter the structure within ceramic materials, potentially enabling the 3-D printing of ceramics.

The development of ceramic 3-D printing has lagged behind that of other materials, such as polymers or metals. Traditional ceramic manufacturing uses large amounts of energy, often requiring materials to be heated at extremely high temperatures. Jayan said she hopes to instead use electromagnetic waves, such as those microwaves use to heat food, to induce changes within ceramics at the structural level. If successful, she could potentially be able to achieve the same quality of results as current manufacturing methods — at a fraction of the energy cost.

The practical applications created by the possibility of this manufacturing process are significant and varied. 3-D printed ceramic parts could find use in sustainable infrastructure, transportation, clean energy, water management, aerospace engineering and health care. By combining research in the fields of electrical and computer engineering, electromagnetics, materials science, mechanical engineering and chemical engineering, the process Jayan is developing could provide a low-energy means to meet these industries' demands for lightweight, high-strength materials.

The focus of the CAREER Award is to continue producing breakthrough research and to integrate the research into an educational setting. In the past, Jayan has received media attention for being among the first to fully integrate the popular open-world game, Minecraft, into a university-level engineering course. She plans to continue using "builder's games" like Minecraft to teach students how building (a.k.a. processing) can change the way materials assemble (their structure) and alter the properties of the material.

"Games create a higher level of student engagement and a more stimulating learning environment, reaching a broader spectrum of learners in the classroom," Jayan said. "This helps address the challenge of cultivating a diverse and highly skilled workforce in manufacturing in the United States."